old post: Garmin Forerunner 630 / 635 – *PRE-RELEASE* thoughts, opinion, comment and predictions

Edit: Please note that this was written months before the actual release of the product in Oct 2015.

This post has been superseded. Try (here) for some thoughts on the ACTUAL Forerunner 630 or read on to find out how wrong (or sometimes right) my 630 predictions were. At least I got the colour right 🙂

Garmin-Forerunner-630

Garmin-Forerunner-630

2015 could prove an exciting year for runners who love their gadgets. It’s certainly on the cards that the successor to the Garmin Forerunner 620 will be on many people’s lucky wrists by the end of 2015!! I’d love your feedback on the potential features for a 630 / 635 (it will be the 630), have I missed anything you think would be a great addition to the 630 – that might or should realistically be added?

A review of the Garmin Forerunner 630 will be well-received by many runners across the globe. Unfortunately it would require one key thing. A watch! So, just to be crystal clear: I have not got one; it may or may not exist; it may or may not be planned; no-one at Garmin has told me about one as they are forbidden to release market sensitive information. External reviewers close to Garmin and other suppliers are probably legally restricted by Non Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) for the same reason.

So please read on if you want to. This is just an opinion piece and a bit of fun.

Garmin Forerunner 630

Garmin Forerunner 630

Having said that I predict there will be a successor to the Garmin Forerunner 620 announced in either autumn/fall 2015 or early Spring 2016.

I think what you are about to read will be broadly correct. You might want to check back to a similar piece I wrote when we triathletes owned 910XTs and just dreamed of the 920XT. (Here) are my pre-announcement opinions of the 920XT – they were reasonably accurate. And (here) are my opinions for the 2015/2016 930XT triathlon watch which will clearly incorporate much of what is written below and more…

Rationale:

Garmin have got a whopping stockpile of cash, some $18bn I believe, they are a techie-focussed company and will only prosper with continued investment in R&D in new products. They simply HAVE TO innovate in the outdoors and fitness and wearables markets to survive and prosper. It’s their raison d’être.

March 2011 marked the release of the Forerunner 610 and the 620 came out over 2 years later in September 2013. Products tend to come out ‘a bit’ before Christmas or ‘a bit’ before the outdoor sporty season gets underway in the Northern Hemisphere. We’re due for one. We’re due for either an announcement or a release in September 2015.

My prediction is for a limited release and an announcement in September 2015

I think it unlikely that there will be a new FENIX4 or a 930XT quite yet, although the latter may be possible (2016) with a cash-grabbing new product with a few new features in line with those of the new Forerunner 630 and similar aesthetic to the 920XT.

Let’s not forget that, even at the time of writing this in April 2015, the Garmin EPIX has not yet been released. Marketing and production teams can only do so much at one time.

Source: Garmin, 620

Source: Garmin, 610

Source: Garmin, 220

FORM FACTOR

Form factor is what a product looks like- its ‘shape’.

You can see from the 610 and 620 images to the right that the newer 620 product was notably different in appearance whilst still remaining a round-display, touchscreen running watch.

Garmin-Forerunner-225

Source: Garmin 225

You can then see how supposedly ‘lesser’ models, like the 220 and 225, were introduced with a VERY similar form, re-using what has already been introduced.

My prediction for the Forerunner 630’s FORM would be that it would be a natural progression with perhaps some deviation from the current ’roundness’ to differentiate it from the rest of the lower ends of Forerunner range. So we are still left with:

It will continue to be a super-lightweight, rounded-display GPS watch with 4 or 5 buttons and a colour touchscreen.

Nothing too controversial there, I think. Although I hope the touchscreen will be ditched or improved a lot.

This great clickable image from zitasport.com shows progression of the various watches over time.

garmin-timeline-revised

Source: zitasport/the5krunner

AESTHETICS

The 620 and 920 were treated with aesthetic disdain by many people on the various forums. I read that Dcrainmaker noted that some people did not like the colours. I would imagine that Garmin have learnt their lesson over those 2 or so years of criticism. They should get me to design the colour schemes AND ONE OF THEM WILL BE ALL-BLACK 🙂 And that is the one that they will sell the most of IMHO.

The May 2015 announcement of the Forerunner 225 (image above) shows a strong similarity to the 220 so maybe the 630 will be more like either the 225 or the 620.

They may also learn a trick or two from Apple and Suunto with the introduction of premium-aesthetic forms. Perhaps not a gold-plated one, that would be silly, but something could be done with interchangeable straps or dedicated IQ watch faces to better enable it to be a day-to-day watch for the masses.

Better colour options and a better colour design to enable it to be a better day-to-day watch.

CONNECTIVITY and COMMUNICATIONS

Garmin watches only support ANT+ sensors.

With the high-end watches that can communicate out to a Bluetooth smartphone it is relatively straightforward to enable Bluetooth sensor support. The reason for not doing so will be commercial. Why would Garmin want you to buy someone else’s sensors?

So, more of the same too here I’m afraid. It will still be ANT+ only for sensor support. It will still allow uploads/comms through WIFI and BLUETOOTH over your home network and/or to your smartphone.

Along with GPS, you will also get GLONASS positional support. Just like the FENIX3 and 920XT. Supposedly complementary and improved satellite-based positioning. I always found the 620 great at getting a satellite lock, perhaps only small improvements possible here.

Sorry, it’s just GLONASS+GPS that you’ll get.

THE SCREEN

The 620’s screen always felt a bit plasticky to me. This was probably all part of making it creditably super-light. My sneaky suspicion is that Garmin will want to make the 630 more of a day-to-day watch. It will still have a touch screen (hopefully not) BUT I think it will be a better, tougher glass with much better colours and resolution. It will need the resolution and vibrancy to LOOK like a great day-to-day watch (when a decent IQ watch face is downloaded)

A noticeably better, vibrant touchscreen

CUSTOMISABILITY

I’ve mentioned IQ a few ties. This is Garmin’s APP STORE. You can download lots of clever stuff, including stuff that changes the display. IQ will bring whatever IQ will bring and that will all come to the 630.

IQ WILL be supported by the 630.

CHIPSET

I don’t profess to know or care much about the chip that is inside the device. There will be a better one inside (the chipset in a 920XT is: Media Tek MT3333). A better one will make the 630 faster and able to cope with some of the rigours that errant IQ apps may place on the device.

Will be better (Earth-shattering predictions abound).

CHEST STRAP

Well the chest strap for the 630 is already released. I have one. Here’s a picture.

630's new HRM-RUN strap
Just to be clear though. It’s just a new strap!. It’s not really, as far as I know, ear-marked specifically for an impending 630 announcement. You can buy one in the Garmin store. It’s the same HRM-RUN pod that you get with the existing 620 but on a new strap (or you can buy the new strap with the HRM3 pod instead).

Whether this strap addresses the HR spike and dropouts that we get with ALL VENDOR’S straps, I don’t know. It could just be a better strap in this respect that we are looking at.

OR, speculating, it could be heralding something new with Garmin’s strap direction – perhaps going further down the route of a data-caching pod (HRM-RUN and HRM-TRI). That will keep the triathlete/swimmers happy but would not do much for runners – unless your battery has died in which case you could record at least part of your session’s data on the POD for later upload.

Indeed the strap will not even ship with the later-released 635 (if it has optical HR). There will be an option to turn off optical HR to save battery power and use a MORE ACCURATE chest strap.

Garmin Forerunner 630

no new strap…oh dear ! got that wrong

Don’t forget that the chest strap will be required to produce the running dynamics data. I don’t think it will be possible to produce running dynamics (other than cadence) from the watch unit itself as the wrist is the wrong position for this. It would have to be on the feet or chest.

Garmin 225 REAR

Garmin 225 REAR

Oh and here’s a picture of the optical HR unit (to the right) that will hopefully be in the 635!! It already exists on the 225. It has a circular rubber seal to stop water and light ingress to the sensor area. As you can see there are 2x LEDs. Actually this might be changed to have more multi-coloured LEDs, more LEDs and/or more sensors – all of which might improve accuracy.

The 635 will have optical HR. There will be an option of a ‘new strap’ with HRM-RUN pod for the 635 this will be the one currently available on the aftermarket.

THE POD

Have a look at cycling dynamics that came with the bike computer that use the GARMIN VECTOR power-meter pedals.

Cycling Dynamic metrics were introduced in two tranches. We have one set of running metrics already (Vertical Oscillation, Ground Contact Time, Cadence) perhaps there is another tranche waiting to be released onto the running world? I know for sure that other vendors are actively pursuing this sort of thing eg RUNTEQ and AMBIOTEX.

There may be new RUNNING DYNAMICS metrics supplied by an updated HRM4-RUN pod.

You can look for firmware updates to the HRM Chest Pod (Currently v6.30) such as those reported (here).

Actually, other types of sensors could also be developed in a new footpod but I don’t think that Garmin will want yet another pod to sell along with a HRM pod.

Then again with cadence being supplied within the watch/HRM-RUN/old-style-pod why not introduce a pod that can do something else a bit cleverer in the area of extended running dynamics? (eg www.runteq.com)

A brief aside; with the 920XT, it is a glaring omission (accepted by Garmin) that Heart Rate cannot be recorded underwater like with Polar and Suunto. This HAS to be addressed by either inaccurate and more error-prone wrist-based optical HR straps OR by data caching on the chest strap/pod. If that caching happens on the pod then this might have some implications for the 630 and/or the 630 could be used as a testing bed.

To keep triathletes and swimmers happy I hope that a new HR pod will cache data but I can’t see it happening for the 630.

Edit: The HRM-TRI and HRM-SWIM were released in Summer 2015 and fill this gap for the existing 920XT. They WILL work with the 630 AND WILL ALSO CACHE data should you leave your watch at home (!?!) after having started a session with the watch. (At least that’s how it DOES work now with the 920XT in run or bike or ‘other’ mode).

Another area of improvement for the POD (which the new strap may have been designed to support) is super-accurate HR readings. I mentioned earlier about AMBIOTEX, they are in beta for a super accurate HR pod which they claim is able to estimate Lactate Threshold Heart Rates (LTHR). Such hardware capability could feed though into a watch that is able to automatically set ‘correct’ heart rate training zones. I hope that sort of thing would happen but I just don’t think it will.

Edit: May 2015: With the introduction of the Optical HR THROUGH A PARTNERSHIP WITH MIO on the Forerunner 225 it seems inevitable that a 635 will also have optical HR

Edit: July 2015: Introduction of HRM-RUN and HRM-TRI announced for the 920XT

METRICS

New metrics could be added and yes I know that there are plenty-enough already. It may be possible to introduce new ones through IQ but Garmin would most likely introduce them through improvements to RUNNING DYNAMICS, especially if there is a new pod (either HRM pod or foot pod).

Having said that METMAX or EPOC may be introduced as they are used extensively by the partner-company of Garmin – FIRSTBEAT.

As you can see, below, Suunto already do this sort of thing to a degree.

Analysis

The 630 will be integrated through HRV enablement into FRISTBEAT ATHLETE software (Edit: Although HRM-RUN and HRM-TRI produced FIT files do not always work with Firstbeat Oct 2015).

However. Just as on-device segments have been added to the Edge 810 and Edge 100 cycling computers then so must they be added on running watches. Eventually. Recently announced Strava segment support for the Edge 520 may make its way to the running watches but is most likely the realm of the cyclist for now.

Other running watches also handle laps within splits (or laps within longer intervals eg 1km autolap within 2×20′ threshold runs) and other display-types such as ‘time in zones’. These should all be added as well

Laps based are both GPS position and time are also needed with the latter much less likely to be added.

Further segment support will be added and laps within intervals should be added. Laps based on position could be added.

Currently when a segment (as created on Garmin Connect) is crossed ‘lesser’ models will already report this if you are following a course.

WEIGHT& BATTERY LIFE

Battery life will be improved to accommodate ultra-runners and for day-to-day usage as a watch.

A more powerful battery will be necessary to fuel a better processor/GPS chip and screen and we have seen the improvements in battery life that are possible with models from Garmin as well as the other manufacturers.

The 620 is super-light (VivoActive is lighter still). I can’t see it needing to get any lighter with the 630. It might get a bit heavier to accommodate a bigger battery to keep the ultra runners happy

It will be a tad heavier

NAVIGATION

Some navigation maybe introduced but then this starts to stray the 630 in the direction of the FENX3 and EPIX.

On balance though some navigation might just persuade the occasional off-roader that simple maps, a compass and back-to-start type functionality just make the user a bit safer.

Limited navigation to be introduced.

NOTIFICATIONS

Fear not you will get those all-important text messages notified to your phone as well as other stuff.

It will have bluetooth, smartphone notifications

ACTIVITY MONITOR

Well yes. This is the way of the world. I will be amazed if the 630 is *NOT* an activity tracker.

It will be an activity tracker.

SWIM/BIKE – MULTISPORT

Whilst I don’t see this developing into a triathlon watch. Maybe a ‘nod’ will be given to cyclists and swimmers with some very rudimentary lap-timer and GPS-based speed being included in different sport ACTIVITY modes. Perhaps letting the runner at least use her/his watch for his once a year triathlon with friends. Suunto and Polar both do this.

Very rudimentary swim/bike functionality will be added via profiles. Limited or zero swim/bike sensor support.

A NEW RANGE?

Whilst the 620 and 220 were announced at the same time I initially suspected that a more profitable strategy would be to announce a 630 in September 2015 and a 230 in March 2016. However the reverse has happened with the 225 (the updated 220) being released in May 2015 – perhaps ironing out any issues with the optical HR before releasing a the top-of-the-range 630?

The 6xx-range to follow earlier technology-proving model(s)

PRICING

You can see the trend in the price of the 620 since launch in the UK (with HRM).

You can see that the price has bottomed out at an all-time low. It could be argued that the current post-Christmas low prices are to clear out inventories ahead of the 630. There are other explanations too. I suspect that we are not at an inventory-clearing range of prices yet. Once prices of the 620 go into the £200-£230 range then I suspect that the 630 is imminent.

It is clearish that the 630 will be initially priced upwards of £360 with HRM.

Prices may, perhaps, even start as high as £400 w/HRM.

And then you would be right to ask how such a price is justified? And how is it justified on the only rather limited expansion in the number of features I’ve suggested here. Good questions indeed.

INITIALLY it might be hard to see why the 220 was about half the price of the 620 – what justified that?

Then again; if you want the top-of-the-range model you have to pay for it in all walks of life.

So IMO Garmin NEED to offer something MORE than what is above.

THE DIFFERENTIATORS

1. Optical HR

After May 2015’s partnership announcement with MIO, an optical HR capability will be included at some point, the demand is certainly there for it. There are several optical HR offerings already out there in the market for example the TomTom Cardio(s), Mio Alpha, the Epson Runsense(s) and Polar also have announced an intent to enter the market with optical HR.

There will be optical HR on the Garmin 635 with chest strap support.

2. Power When Running

An ANT+ power sensor FOR RUNNING already exists with STRYD. STRYD is about to be imminently launched. Should that go well I suspect that Garmin might, just might, include ANT+ POWER SENSOR support. That might sound trivial but don’t forget that all the follow-on power-running metrics need to be added and also then reported on in Garmin Connect. That is a not inconsiderable task to merely support a 3rd party product.

Maybe the 3rd party could implement that through IQ?

However should Garmin ever buy such a company then we are talking a different ball game totally.

There won’t be direct ANT+ Power Running Support. Some form of enablement through IQ may happen.

3. Tests and Recovery Metrics

Fitness protocols or tests could be included with the 630. Perhaps waking HRV (an IQ app already exists for this), perhaps tests that determine LTHR or that further utilise or refine HR zones through the existing VO2max estimates or LTHR.

It should be noted that the AMBIT3 now leads Garmin’s offerings in respect of these kinds of features.

Further tests like Polar’s JUMP test could be incorporated as a measure of recovery.

Perhaps just a little more insight than the current ‘RECOVERY TIME 36 HOURS’, or similar, message. Perhaps something like Polar’s slightly more insightful data.

There might be scope for including additional in-exercise recovery metrics. Again, these sorts of things are quite possible with HRV-enablement (which the 630 WILL have). So, for example, a 10x 2minute interval session could be specified so that the recovery time in-between reps is automatically adjusted for each repetition based on your fatigue state. And that particular session might also be ended after a particular fatigue state is achieved.

If you’ve seen FIRSTBEAT’s ATHLETE software then you will have seen that their training coach does a similar thing to what I have just talked about with the 10x2minute session EXCEPT that it does it on a daily basis. So it might tell you to do a training effect=3.4 session on Monday BUT depending on how you perform in that session it will make Tuesday either harder or easier. That sort of thing might have to be implemented from the Garmin Connect level and I can’t see it happening unfortunately – I actually use the FIRSTBEAT ATHLETE‘s TRAINING COACH as one of the inputs to MY training FWIW…it’s quite good.

Source: FIRSTBEAT KUVA6

Source: FIRSTBEAT KUVA6

Perhaps something that could be incorporated into the ‘special’ running metrics (VO GTC) is something in Garmin Connect to actually tell you what to do about it. So what I am thinking of here is some form of feedback into your TECHNIQUE training. Maybe you BOUNCE too much. Well Garmin could then point that out to you AND tell you what to do about it (eg drills). This sort of thing might build on new RUNNING DYNAMICS metrics. Having said all of this, I suspect Garmin’s response would be that the data they produce needs to be interpreted by YOUR coach and s/he should be the one who tells you what to do about it. That would be a shame as most people do not have one-to-one coaching.

I can’t really see anything new being added around tests and recovery feedback but I would have thought all the recovery and VO2-type metrics in other Garmin watches will be introduced.

Closing Thoughts

So having got to the end I confess to underwhelming myself somewhat. Yet I come back to the FACT that Garmin will HAVE to innovate and differentiate their 630/635 (or whatever it is called) offering. Feeling that there is not so much that either can or will be added in terms of firmware/software functionality I am left with the disappointing conclusion that the differentiation will happen through ‘better’ hardware such as an improved battery or screen. Garmin is a technology company after all.

Perhaps, like the Apple Watch, innovation might come in from an EVEN better screen than I’ve imagined that can allow different kinds of taps and gestures (eg a tap vs. a firm press). Perhaps, like the Apple Watch, different levels of alerts will be felt with different kinds of vibrations or perhaps there will be more comprehensive audio feedback/music through products like JABRA PULSE SPORT earbuds. Perhaps!

But with news in May 2015 of the optical HR introduced to the 235 then my underwhelmedness (yes that is a word) has transformed into a wry and anticipatory smile.

Edit: With July’s introduction of the Edge 520, everyone is initially very impressed with that leap forward for the Edge series. Furthermore, whilst not relevant to the 630, the HRM-SWIM/HRM-TRI announcement in July 2015 shows that month-on-month Garmin are coming out with eye-opening new products. Keep up the trend!

PREDICTION: A 630 model EXcluding OPTICAL HR but with activity tracking and lots of lesser goodies. Then, later, a 635 with dual-HR: optical HR+chest strap.

Without optical HR I will take a lot of convincing that the 630 is not just a money grabbing new release of a re-formed and updated 620. We’ll see.

0 thoughts on “old post: Garmin Forerunner 630 / 635 – *PRE-RELEASE* thoughts, opinion, comment and predictions

    • before the 2016 tri-season. Maybe an announcement in Q1.2016 ?
      only reasons they might not is if
      1. there’s no market for it (considering the expense of developing and increased cost)
      2. causes too much of the 630’s functionality to be lost ie anythings hrv related and anythink running dynamics related will not work.

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